At first glance, Turkey’s third-largest city (formerly known as Smyrna) may seem modern and harsh—even the beautiful setting, between the Gulf of İzmir and the mountains, doesn’t soften some of the starkness of industrial districts and sprawling concrete suburbs. Spend a few days here, though, either on your way to other parts of the South Aegean, or as a base for visiting Ephesus and the surrounding area, and you’ll
find an extremely pleasant, progressive city with 7,000 years of history, and much to occupy the modern traveler. The key is to make a beeline for the waterfront. An attractively refurbished promenade known as the Kordon follows the Gulf of Smyrna for almost 3 km (2 miles), chockablock with cafés and restaurants its entire length. A short walk inland, a refreshing wealth of landmarks include the Kemeraltı outdoor bazaar and a collection of fine museums, while the ancient Kadifekale fortress crowns a hill of the same name.
The waterside Konak district is at the heart of İzmir life, with shops, restaurants, and clubs that are continually moving farther afield along the waterfront into the narrow lanes of the old Alsancak and Pasaport neighborhoods. You can take in the scene on a walk along Pasaport pier, past arestored customs house originally built by Gustave Eiffel or on the Asansör (elevator), an early-20th-century relic-turned-gourmet-restaurant (also called Asansör) that connects the slopes of Karataş, a Jewish enclave that is one more piece of this cosmopolitan city that will delight you with its richness. The relaxed, largely residential neighborhood of Karşıyaka is a delightful ferry ride across the harbor.